Four years ago, I got sober through an outpatient treatment program. The rehabilitation facility I went to followed the 12-step format and stressed the importance of AA meetings and a sponsor. In a way, I owe my sobriety to this form of treatment. I’m so grateful for it. For the first year or so of recovery, this is the format I followed because it was what I knew and it was what was working. But over time I found that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable at AA meetings. Part of it was the God talk, since I’m not necessarily religious, but it was more than that, too. The way sobriety was discussed just didn’t always click for me, and I found myself leaving meetings with a frustrated feeling hanging over me. Though I occasionally still go to meetings, I’ve stayed sober for three of my four years largely without AA involvement. Here’s how:
1. I have a recovery network online. The internet is an amazing resource for those in recovery. It allows you to connect with men and women all over the world, of all ages. There are various websites, chat rooms, Facebook groups, and more which are all about sobriety and recovery. There are hundreds of bloggers who cover sobriety and recovery from numerous standpoints. There are videos and podcasts. The list goes on. The internet has been a lifesaver for my sobriety. Not only has it allowed me to begin a blog and write about recovery, but it has connected me with many men and women who are going through or have gone through the same feelings and circumstances that I have. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter if we haven’t met in real life, that connection still exists because we have been through the same struggles and we’ve all decided to change our lives for the better. The women I have met through technology have become constants in my life and are always there to offer advice and love.
2. I have an outlet for stress and fear. Like many who are in recovery, I used to use alcohol to release stress and fear. Upon getting sober, that was clearly no longer an option. I had to find new ways to cope with my emotions, which was scary at first. I didn’t know how to just sit with them and feel them without burying them. I had heard from many people that writing about recovery was a healthy way to work through this array of emotions. Because I have always been a writer/journaler, this was the outlet where I found the most comfort. Since getting sober four years ago, writing has remained a constant in my life. I write when I’m happy, sad, frustrated, confused, hysterical. There is something about putting words down on paper that makes life seem just a little more manageable. Though writing has been a good way for me to find relief from difficult emotions, I’ve found I can only solve so much through words. I recently decided I needed another healthy outlet, something I could put my all into and walk away knowing I’d done everything I could. So I started Crossfit. To be honest, I don’t know how I managed stress and anxiety before I started working out. Moving your body and pushing it to its limits has a way of making the hard things in your life seem a little less hard. I still write often, but I also move often. Sometimes the most effective solution may be a combination of outlets that allow you to lead the healthiest life possible.
3. I think back to the way life was when I was drinking. This may seem like a small tool, but it’s a powerful one. Like most people in recovery, I have off days. I have days where I wish I could drink and forget about what is happening in my life. I have days where I want to feel “normal.” Sometimes I even consider what would happen if I did allow myself to drink. However, I can usually snap out of this mindset pretty quickly when I think back to the way my life was when I was drinking. Towards the end of my drinking career, my life was headed in a quick downward spiral. I had damaged many of the closest relationships in my life. I had let myself go physically and I often felt rundown or hungover. I wasn’t happy with the person I had become. I keep some photos of myself during this period of time because all of these things are reflected in the way I looked and the way I carried myself. When I’m feeling down about recovery, I look at these photos. And then I look at photos of the person I am today. And the choice to not drink becomes an easy one, because no part of me wants to return to that person I was before.
4. I keep words of wisdom on hand. Words are powerful, and there are so many words about recovery and sobriety out there. I have a board on Pinterest dedicated to quotes about recovery, as well as bookmarked blog posts on my phone. I’ve also saved emails or texts from people telling me they are proud of the journey I have been on. For some reason, revisiting words like these has a way of grounding me and making me remember why it is that I began this journey. In difficult moments, when I am wishing I could be more like other people my age, I grab my phone and pull up these quotes or blog posts or emails. I take five minutes to read, and after doing so I usually feel refreshed and remember why I set out on this journey four years ago. It was because I wanted a better life, and for me, drinking will never be the way to a better life.
5. I talk to people about how I am feeling and why. This is perhaps the most vital tool in my sobriety. Before getting sober, I disliked talking about my emotions. I felt like it made me weak to acknowledge that I was struggling and I preferred to just bury any difficult emotions instead. This often involved drinking in order to forget why I was feeling the way I was, which just made the feelings worse upon sobering up.
But when I found myself in treatment, I had to learn how to vocalize my feelings and figure out what was at the root of them. This was something I hated at first, but as time has passed I have become wholly comfortable expressing my emotions. Today I feel comfortable reaching out to the people in my life and asking for help. I can talk through my emotions and dig to the bottom of them to figure out what the root cause is and what I can do to get myself back on track. There are still days where confronting emotions is difficult, but it always proves to be worth it.
It’s important to note that staying sober without AA isn’t the right path for everyone. For some, AA is necessary in order to get sober and maintain recovery. And that’s just fine, because everyone’s path is different. Those living a life of recovery need to know that they have every right to find what works for them in their own personal journey. There is no right or wrong way to stay sober.